Need help ?

Technique Dressage : Managing a hot horse


Discover essential strategies to manage riding anxiety and ensure a safe and confident experience. From seeking professional guidance to understanding the reasons behind your horse's anxiety, learn how to push your limits while prioritizing safety. Don't let fear hold you back from enjoying the rewarding world of horse riding.

Managing a Contracted Horse Under Saddle for Safety


A good dressage horse should naturally move forward. It is essential to select a willing partner with the necessary energy to perform the movements. No one wants to exhaust themselves trying to motivate their horse to execute even the simplest exercise, as it is neither enjoyable for the rider nor pleasant for the judge evaluating the harmony of the pair. However, it is crucial to channel this power to train harmoniously. Opting for an excessively "hot" horse can lead to being overwhelmed or even losing complete control. In the best case scenario, it will be difficult to perform a smooth test, while in the worst case, it can be dangerous.


The line between a dynamic horse and a "hot" horse can be very thin. How can you gather enough activity while containing any overflow? How can you manage a horse that is easily distracted without losing expression? Here are some elements to consider. Just like humans, horses express stress in different ways. Some may react with dramatic turns or explosions, but in reality, each horse manifests its anxiety differently, both under saddle and sometimes even in the stable. Some may become resistant and refuse to move forward, disregarding the rider's aids. Others may exhibit discomfort in the mouth, lifting the tongue and creating a delicate contact with the hand. Each horse has its own apprehensions, and each problem requires a specific solution. Regardless of its temperament, it is crucial to adapt and have enough confidence to handle the situation. As riders, it is up to each of us to determine our own limits. To create a trusting relationship with your horse, patience is key, as well as learning to overcome your own fears.


Highlighting the Approach


The natural instinct of a rider on a nervous horse is to activate the handbrake, gripping the reins to contain the excess energy. While this tendency may seem logical at first, it goes against the primary reaction of any equine: flight. Apprehension leads us to want to hold back. However, the solution often lies in moving forward. A constrained horse, trapped by the hand, risks becoming more agitated. A proper balance must be found to maintain control without blocking the horse. On a "hot" horse, the instinct is to completely release leg pressure, even though it can be beneficial. Indeed, the rider's attitude plays a major role: if the horse senses your uneasiness, if it senses that your requests are changing, it justifies its own anxiety. At all times, you must be a model, a guide. If the horse senses you are calm and determined, its tension will decrease, while panicking can quickly fuel the fire. Your attitude should be that of a parent facing a worried child: reasonable and reassuring. The support provided by your legs and hands indicates that you are in control of the situation, that it is not abnormal because you continue to act in a familiar manner. By accompanying your horse and guiding it normally, you should defuse the situation. Maintain a constant contact on the reins, remain discreet but present with your legs. Be attentive but convincing, responsive yet resolute. It may also be useful to start trotting quickly at the beginning of the session if your horse is tense. The warm-up at a loose rein walk is sometimes impossible. Adapt your warm-up to the situation. Start by encouraging forward movement at the trot and canter, then return to the walk once the tension subsides. If you choose to lunge your horse before riding, do so with the aim of warming up rather than releasing energy. Maintain composure and a systematic approach.


The Importance of Your Position


As always, your position on horseback is crucial. When panicked, it is common to lean forward in an attitude of fear or resignation. This movement of the upper body allows for uncontrolled flight and acceleration, weakening your effectiveness and influence. The number one goal when dealing with a spirited horse is to stay focused on your own posture. Sit securely in the saddle, keeping your upper body perfectly horizontal, your hands low, and your legs lengthened. Do not let the reins lengthen by raising your hands, diving backward, or forward. Initially, opt for shorter reins that will stabilize your balance while channeling your horse. Remember that the reassuring presence of your assertive aids is calming. However, be cautious not to cling with your calf or spur under any circumstances, as an excessive acceleration would send a counterproductive message to the horse, potentially causing alarm and a loss of control. Adopt an attitude that reflects your self-confidence. It is normal to be afraid, but try not to convey that feeling. The horse is a sponge that senses all of your emotions. The impact of your mindset is considerable. Be vigilant, be cautious, respect your limits, but leave your apprehensions on the ground. Once in the saddle, anticipating every possible spook will only create additional stress for your partner. Easier said than done!


Pushing the Boundaries of Our Fears


- Always be supervised by a professional

- Have your trainer warm up your horse

- Longe the horse before riding

- Be held on a longe line

- Limit yourself to trotting initially

- Set boundaries in the arena

- Use an earpiece to receive constant guidance from your trainer


Keep Your Horse Focused


A good solution to prevent outbursts is to keep your horse's mind engaged. Continuously challenge and engage your horse to gain his concentration. Perform various exercises, even simple ones, to keep his focus on you rather than external elements. Voltes, shoulder-in, and leg yields can be beneficial at the beginning of the session. These exercises allow you to apply your legs while avoiding straight lines that may encourage excessive speed. Increase the number of transitions and changes of direction to make your horse more attentive. When approaching a challenging area, if your horse tenses up, bypass the problem and avoid approaching it head-on. It is better to persuade than to force. Use a slight inside flexion, control the speed, and gradually approach the area of concern by pushing the horse with your inside leg. This slight leg yield approach will bring you closer to the objective while avoiding direct conflict. It is more important to maintain control over your horse's attitude and gait than to maintain a perfect trajectory. Shift the focus to controlling speed and neck position rather than solely focusing on resistance. Your horse is much stronger and stubborn than you! You cannot force him, but you can persuade him. You may not achieve your goal perfectly, and your horse may not be completely relaxed or go exactly where you wanted, but if he makes any effort to relax or come closer, then you have succeeded.


Understanding the Reasons for Anxiety


It is important to consider the reasons behind a horse's anxiety. Since we impose a lifestyle on them that is far removed from their natural state, it is our responsibility to ensure their well-being. The first thing to monitor is the presence of pain. Obviously, horses are unable to express their feelings and the reasons for their reactions. However, unusual and violent resistance can often be explained by discomfort or suffering. Soreness, ill-fitting equipment, dental issues, muscle sensitivity, poor shoeing, stiffness, ulcers... These are all reasons that can lead to exaggerated reactions. Confinement in a box stall can also contribute to excessive energy. A horse should be able to walk for hours, graze on grass, play, and express themselves. If your horse is healthy, enjoys recreational time in turnout, but still exhibits tension, look into their nutrition. Their diet also plays a major role.


The Importance of Guidance


We cannot emphasize enough the importance of being guided by a professional at all times. Riding is a complex sport, and horses are sensitive animals. Quality guidance is essential for both your safety and your technical progress. An anxiety-inducing situation becomes easier to overcome with the assistance of a person on the ground. Never be ashamed to ask for help, to dismount, to take a break, but push yourself to push your limits a little further each time. Seeing another rider on your horse can reassure you about their behavior. Observing their discipline with a third party will provide comfort and shed light on the method to follow. Try to avoid situations that you are not capable of managing. The horse may sense your helplessness and take advantage of it.